2014 was an astonishing year for London DJ Monki. Her Radio 1 & 1xtra show went from strength to strength, she spent the summer killing festivals, played every single Annie Mac Presents date and she put out the second in a line of mixtapes that she made in Red Bull’s studio with a range of incredible producers including Hot Chip’s Joe Goddard, grime stalwart Preditah and one of our original music influences; Sinden.
Monki, or Lucy Monkman to her friends, also has her own label, Zoo music, using it to nurture talent like TOYC and Baxta, as well as physically supporting the talent she champions on her radio show.
Late last year Breaks caught up with Monki backstage at the final Annie Mac Presents concert of the year in Brixton, as she was opening up the main room and talked about everything she has accomplished this year, to her plans for 2015 and beyond.
Please can you introduce who you are and what you do.
My name is Monki, I am a DJ for Radio 1 and 1Xtra and I run a label called Zoo music and I run a night called Monki & Friends along with a yearly EP we do under the same name.
Going back to the start you got your start as a radio DJ at Rinse but before that you were working as an intern how did that work and going onto..
Yep before I was an intern at Rinse I was an intern at a local station called Radio Jackie which was like a pirate station in the 60’s and its a local station near where I lived at the time.
Is that the one that was subjective to that film a few years ago and was based on the old off-shore military posts?
That’s Radio Caroline which was like the off shore, that was like mental pirate thing. But I think they had something to do with that, but I did an internship there for a few days and the guy who I met there obviously knew I was into dance music and stuff, he was like you know this is like a over 30’s commercial station and we’ve got links at Rinse FM if you would be interested I was like of course I’m interested it’s hard not to categorise but I was surprised they had links there.
They basically just used to help them out with certain things like when Rinse was pirate. They got me in touch and there was 4 months of emailing back and forth as you’d imagine, getting in touch with a pirate station is quite hard work, a few phones and stuff. Then yeah started interning there and I was there for 4 years.
How old were you at this point when you started interning?
So you left when you were 21. So how long was it from interning there to having a show?
It was a funny one as I knew I wanted to do a show eventually, I did a few shows at Camden Roundhouse radio with my mate, Ollie (who owns his own online station now, Radar Radio) and Rinse knew I was doing that. Then I literally was getting Nandos or something and I came back in the office and Geeneus [Rinse founder] looked at me and was “like do you want a fucking show or not?”
He was like right tomorrow, Thursday morning 11am, this guys not turning up so you’re going to cover him and I was like ok cool. I covered him, then after that I covered him again the week after and then again the week after then I just ended up keeping the slot.
So how old were you at that point?
I had just turned 18.
When you did that show did you get to play exactly what you wanted to play or did you have more of a guidance where you needed to fill this sort of music type and do this sort of thing? Or was it ‘Lucy you play what you want for two hours’?
It was literally that, I’m glad they put the trust in me and obviously its quite a daunting station to go on when your 18, Skream was on the station, all the Night Slugs guys doing their thing, Artwork, Zinc they were massive influential people at the station and the people who run it as well. It was really nerve racking and I don’t think I spoke for the first half hour and I’m pretty sure I didn’t mix the first three records together because I was really scared I was going to clang them together.
Back then someone on twitter did something called ‘The Clang Police’ where they would out you ha! It was all a good laugh. But I just went in there and played music I liked, luckily the people at the station liked it as well.
After that came Radio 1 – firstly no disrespect to Rinse but its an obvious career progression – was it difficult to leave that position and those guys that gave you the start and is it still an amicable relationship, was it an amicable split?
I mean like its always hard leaving somewhere that you have been part of for so long and was such an important part of me growing as a broadcaster and a DJ and they gave me my kick start. They did things like give me a Serato box because I was skint and things like that. It is really like a family vibe in that office, there is not many people in there so once your in there it is quite a tight knit group and leaving was really difficult.
It was hard to put it in a way that, I didn’t want to disrespect anyone because I knew what the station had done for me. But at the same time it was something I had to do and had to do for myself. It was nothing personal and I think they know that. I have a lot of respect for them. It was always going to be difficult, I was pretty upset when I left which is mad because I was moving to the biggest radio station in the world.
When you started Radio 1 you were part of In New DJ’s we Trust circulation, correct me if I’m wrong but I’m fairly sure only one of the DJ’s to go permanent from that was Toddla and a few others. So at that point you were leaving a steady thing at Rinse to something that might not be permanent. Was the scary?
Yeah, I was proper terrified, I feel once you leave Rinse to go to the BBC I felt like I was making that decision myself and there wasn’t a way back, I had to make that decision. It was a risk but it was a risk I had to take and thank fuck it pulled off.
In comparison to other specialist shows so you have Benji B, Toddla and a few others. What do listeners of your show get that they wouldn’t get on Tom’s show or Benji’s show for example?
Yeah it is a hard one because there is less specialists now because of the cuts, there is less specialists but just as much specialist music because everyone that stayed got given an extra hour. So there are less of us but just as much music as we all go an extra hour.
I think luckily I have got a bit of a funny show – I do a live show on 1Xtra at 10pm on a Monday night and those shows that go off at 10pm throughout the week like me, Sian Anderson, A.Dot. I feel like I don’t cross over with those presenters, I guess I’m a bit more dance music orientated. I play a bit of grime but I probably don’t play the same or as much grime as they do. So there will always be a bit but it’s also your job to be different. And out of those shows on 10pm on 1Xtra I’m the only show to get put on Radio 1, which is great. Its good to know that they trust me. There is always going to be some cross over there is always going to be some tunes that everyone is playing, its just all part of the challenge, trying to stand out from everyone else and I strongly believe that Benji has his own thing going, Toddla has as well, I do; Friction has the drum and bass show. You have to have your own thing.
We interviewed Benji B last year for Breaks and he was saying people don’t realise how much work goes into putting a show together, like how much of your week does it take up to do those shows?
Its most of my week to be honest, people probably think we just turn up and mix some records and talk over the top of but trying to find three hours of new music each week is a hard task, especially when there other people trying to do it as well.
How much of your show is playlisted by the BBC?
Zero. None at all, I choose everything. Which is great I get complete freedom on the BBC is amazing and a lot of work goes into it. There’s 1 day where it takes me a whole day to put it together because I’m a bit picky on how certain tunes are going to sound next to each other, stuff like that. Then there’s a day where I will do it live so that’s a big chunk out of my day and then its just constant listening to new music so constant, at home, in my car, on the train, on a plane.
So are you going to go on record and say you listen to every promo you get sent or is that not the case?
I try to listen to every promo I get sent – the process for me is like I don’t have a minion yet that can download stuff for me. I wish I did. I’ve got a promo inbox, which anyone can contact me on ‘[email protected]’. So I’ve got that email and then radio pluggers have my other email address as well.
What I do is I download everything at once because this is just the most efficient way of doing it and then unzip everything and it all goes in a big folder and I listen to everything and that’s how I do it. I might not listen to it the day you send it to me because that is impossible but yeah I do try and listen to everything.
So this seems a good time to talk about the label and being sent stuff. How old is the label?
2 years, well actually 2012 but it was mid 2012 so only like a year and a half, not that long.
So some of the acts you have on the label have been there since the start like TOYC, and to an extent Zulu music and they had a release on GIRLS music prior to that. How do you go out and find those artists?
It’s all a very natural process, TOYC & Zulu sent me music ages ago on Rinse that’s how I picked up on them and was like yeah lets put it out its really simple. I know them and they’re friends so its nice and easy and they are sort of my residents for my Monki & Friends in Fabric. They are both really good DJs. The other release is Baxta, I’ve known Baxta for a long time he’s an amazing writer, and he does a lot of writing for artists on other labels, not independent more sort of major labels. He’s an amazing writer and producer he just isn’t in the light that much. He’s a really good producer. Then Tom Shorterz from Don’t Panic he’s doing really good in Brum at the moment with his night, then next year I’ve releasing Kalyde which is a guy that is on Madtech at the moment.
What are you going to do next year? Are your plans with those artists on the label to develop them and keep them?
My whole thing is find new music and I want to put it out and whether that person is already a bit established or is brand new it really doesn’t matter I’ll put them out. Everyone is on the label if they’re happy and we are happy and we’ve got a good relationship they are always welcome to come back and rerelease if I like the music. It’s a really easy going vibe and I’m not planning to go and try and get a number 1 this year and I’m not planning to go and make some new Night Slugs or anything. It is still a growing project.
Lets talk about the Red Bull Studio Mixtape, you’ve done 2 now. The second happened this year in July and you had Mella Dee, Sinden, Joe Goddard, Preditah – among others. It’s awesome. How hard is it to lock people down, Sinden’s in LA now and other people are all over the place. How difficult is it to get people in that room for two weeks and to put together?
It is a funny one, the first one I literally had two weeks to put it together it was so tight. Putting things together that we had a little bit more time this year because we were a little bit more organised and knew how to do it. So maybe I had a month and a bit to put it together and it was very much me getting an artist I liked, or producer or a singer and getting someone else that I liked and talking to them both separately and say how do you feel about working with this person I really like you both and I think it would be amazing. Luckily everyone said yes!
Nobody said they didn’t want to work with that person or I’d rather work with this person or can you try and get me this person. It was all very collaborated by myself. I guess it’s a quite a self-indulgent project, but thankfully people seem to like it!
Are you going to do another one next year?
Yes, we are in the stages of planning one now the Red Bull guys are great. I’m looking forward to it.
How did you get Joe Goddard? That seems like a dream collaborator to me.
You know what that’s the one that was written the quickest. It was literally written in about 10 minutes. I’ve known Joe for a little while, through 2 Bears and stuff. He’s just a really nice guy and I just got talking to him, I can’t remember, it was well over a year ago. So he’s just kept in contact and then I originally asked him to do it and he was working on other projects and he couldn’t do it and then I saw him at XOYO a week later at the 2 Bears thing and everyone was a bit merry and he was like ‘yo now you’ve changed those days I can definitely do it’. I was like ‘oh my god I’m holding you to that!’ Then the next day I emailed him and luckily it wasn’t just drunken happy chat he could actually do it. Luckily we moved those dates.